Beyond the skills gap

Job training has moved from employers to colleges — especially community colleges — writes New America Foundation’s Mary Alice McCarthy. The “skills gap” is a policy gap, she concludes.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) needs to be reframed to “support all forms of postsecondary learning, including students on non-degree paths and those seeking specific skills and credentials,” McCarthy writes in Beyond the Skills Gap: Making Education Work for Students, Employers, and Communities.

We are already paying a high price for our failure to support students in these programs – high debt levels, poor employment outcomes, wasted taxpayer dollars, and employers who still struggle to find workers with the right skills. . . . we know a lot about what makes postsecondary career education work – industry partnerships, structured learning pathways, contextualized instruction, and stackable credentials. Now we need to build the federal, state, and institutional policies to support those practices.

As an example, she looks at a Michigan woman who wants to qualify as a medical assistant, a growing field that can be a first step to nursing and other health careers. She faces a baffling array of choices.

In eastern Michigan, the for-profit Everest Institute’s 10-month medical assistant certificate program costs about $20,000. Career Quest Learning Center in Lansing charges $15,000 for an eight-month program. Federal student grants and loans will help cover the cost of her tuition and related expenses.

In the western part of the state, Grand Rapids Community College offers a six-month certificate program that costs only $7,585, but it is “noncredit.” That means she’s not eligible for federal Pell grants or student loans and can’t use her training as the first step toward an associate degree.

Kalamazoo Valley Community College‘s certificate program only costs about $4,000. Students can get state and federal grants and loans. “But there is most likely a waiting list, so she will probably need to wait a semester or two,” writes McCarthy. “In addition, she will have to pass the course placement exams to be admitted or complete remedial courses until she can bring her scores up enough to be allowed to enroll.”

Or perhaps she could consider the 20 schools in Michigan that offer associate degrees in medical assisting at varying costs.

All this for a job with an average annual salary in Michigan of $27,000 – or about $13 an hour.

More than half of undergraduate credentials are in career education, writes McCarthy. Thirty-three percent are vocational certificates and 20 percent are occupationally focused associate degrees. These days, “more than 500 institutions of higher education offer undergraduate certificates in welding technology for which you can get a Pell grant or federal student loan.”

But it’s hard for vocational students to move to academic tracks. Their credits aren’t “stackable.” And it’s easy for colleges to “deliver expensive, low-quality career education programs,” she writes.

Most short-term training programs aren’t eligible for federal aid.

For example, a short-term certificate in phlebotomy may help a student get a job and earn credits toward a certificate in medical assisting, which in turn, can be applied toward an associate degree in nursing, and up to a bachelor’s degree in nursing. But if the first and lowest step on the ladder is not eligible for financial aid, some students will not be able to reach it.

Adults must have a high school credential to be eligible for federal aid, regardless of their skills. That’s a huge barrier for many low-income adults, she writes.

Chicago: Free tuition for college-ready students

College-ready students will get a free ride to the City Colleges of Chicago‘s seven campuses, reports the Chicago Tribune. To qualify for a Chicago Star Scholarship, which covers tuition, books and fees, students must graduate from a public high school with a 3.0 grade-point average or better and be prepared for college-level math and English.

The Star Scholarship will cover costs for up to three years above any state or federal aid the student receives.

Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said the scholarships’ $2 million cost will be covered by “greater efficiencies in the system, such as establishing a single nursing at Malcolm X College instead of funding several separate nursing programs,” reports the Tribune.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel predicted City Colleges could save money if more students are prepared for college classes, cutting the $40 million spent each year on remedial classes.

If for-profits fold, where will students go?

When Corinthian Colleges was forced out of business, 72,000 students were displaced, write Mark Schneider and Jorge Klor de Alva on The Hill.  Students and taxpayers will pay the “real cost of Obama’s war against for-profit colleges,” they write. Schneider, president of College Measures, served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics from 2005-2008. Klor de Alva is president of Nexus Research and Policy Center.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told Corinthian’s former students to consider the “plenty of good public universities and community colleges that often offer the same or better courses and cost much less.”

But community colleges and regional public universities may not have the capacity to enroll all these students, write Schneider and Klor de Alva. Furthermore, “the success rates of many of these public schools are embarrassingly low.”

 Taking an example from Durbin’s home state, of the seven campuses run by the City Colleges of Chicago, five of them have graduation rates of 10 percent or less. Even at the City College with the highest graduation rate (Kennedy-King) only about 1 of 5 students completes their “two-year” associate’s degree in three years.

At Chicago State the six-year graduation rate for its four-year bachelor’s degree programs is an anemic 21 percent.

Community colleges and state universities are subsidized by local and state taxpayers, they add. Educating Corinthian’s former students  in community colleges would cost taxpayers more than $200 million and more than $250 million if they attended public four-year colleges, they estimate.

If for-profit four-year colleges folded, 2.9 million full-time equivalent students would require nearly $19 billion in state subsidies to attend public universities, they estimate. Another 1.7 million full-time equivalent students in for-profit two-year schools would cost $9 billion in community colleges.

California OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Fifteen California community colleges will be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday to create the pilot program, which will launch on Jan. 1, 2015.

California joins 21 other states that authorize two-year colleges to offer four-year degrees.

In recent years, advocates have argued that growing industry demand for more educated workers in fields such as dental hygiene and automotive technology could be met by expanding existing programs at community colleges.

“This is landmark legislation that is a game changer for California’s higher education system and our workforce preparedness,” state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, who authored the bill, said in a statement. “SB 850 boosts the focus of our community colleges on job training and increasing the accessibility and affordability of our state’s higher education system.”

Community college baccalaureates will not compete with degrees offered at nearby state universities.

Many entry-level jobs now require a bachelor’s degree, said San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance M. Carroll.  Colleges are looking at programs in health information science and radiologic technology, she said.

Students will pay an additional $84 per unit fee for upper-division coursework, considerably less than the fees charged to California State University students.

‘Some college’ pays — for some

California faces a shortage of middle-skill workers with technical certificates and associate degrees, reports the Public Policy Institute of California.

In some fields, workers with “some college” earn no more than high school graduates: Child-care workers, solar installers, bakers, massage therapists, personal care aides, housekeepers and hairstylists don’t improve their earnings by attending college, PPIC reports. However, the wage premium is high for health care providers and technicians with a certificate or two-year degree.

FIGURE 4. SOME OCCUPATIONS OFFER HIGHER WAGES AND RETURNS TO “SOME COLLEGE” WORKERS THAN OTHERS

figure 4

SOURCE: Calculations from American Community Survey 2010–2012.

California community colleges should expand training opportunities for allied health care workers in the next decade to meet growing demand, reports PPIC.

Allied health care jobs are technical—licensed vocational nurses, dental hygienists, and imaging technologists, for example—and support positions, such as certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, and dental assistants. They typically require an associate degree or post-secondary certificate that can often be completed in fewer than two years.

However, the number of associate degrees and postsecondary certificates in health programs awarded by the community colleges has increased only slightly in the past decade. Most of these additional degrees have been in nursing.

For-profit colleges have expanded allied health training, enrolling many Latino and black students. However, for-profit students would pay $20,000 to $35,000 for a licensed vocational nurse certificate program,  estimates the report. A similar program would cost  $4,500 at community colleges.

It’s not a bargain education if you drop out

California’s community colleges are accessible and affordable, reports KCRA-TV. But completion and transfer rates are low. Are California’s community colleges a bargain?

College doesn’t pay for everyone

20140908.COCBottomQuarterCollegeGrads1

 This chart explains why college isn’t for everyone, writes Chris Matthews on Forbes. “The bottom quarter of earners with a college degree don’t make more money than the average high school graduate.”

Over the past 40 years, the cost of a degree has increased 12-fold, while graduates’ inflation-adjusted earnings have stayed the same.

It’s possible those lower-quartile workers would have earned even less without a degree, he writes. Some may have chosen fulfilling but low-paying jobs. Still, it’s sobering. And it doesn’t include the many people who dropped out before earning a degree.

Via Cost of College.

 

Universities welcome transfer surge

Jasmine White

Jasmine White transferred to Morgan State University, where she’s majoring in actuarial science.  (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Maryland universities are welcoming — and even recruiting — more transfers, reports the Baltimore Sun. Half of state university undergrads started somewhere else.

Jasmine White was accepted to Morgan State University, her dream college, almost 10 years ago. But the New Yorker discovered she could not afford the out-of-state tuition.

“I just started crying because I had no idea where I was going to get [the money] before class started,” White recalled.

Instead of coming to Baltimore, she earned an associate’s degree at a community college in New York, and served five years in the Army Reserve.

Now 26, she is finally enrolling at Morgan State this fall. With the experiences she has had, she believes she will be able to better focus on her studies than she could have when she was fresh out of high school.

Students are choosing community colleges to save money, said Janet L. Marling, the director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “In the past I think there was the assumption that students were starting at community college because they weren’t ready to go to a four-year school,” she said.

Four-year schools have fewer doubts about the caliber of community college students, said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University. “The shift that you see is the recognition by even the most elite institutions that most of the talent in higher education is sitting in community colleges,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to bring in diverse students by establishing community partnerships.”

Maryland’s universities are establishing pipelines to allow students to transfer more easily, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. More universities are guaranteeing admission to community college graduates who meet academic requirements.

In 2011, Frostburg State University began offering scholarships for graduates of any community college in the state who earn a GPA of 3.0. Frostburg officials say they enrolled their largest transfer class ever last fall.

New University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that he plans to visit every community college president in the state as he steps up recruitment from the two-year colleges.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has focused on retaining and graduating the transfer students it already has. About half of the students at UMBC transferred there from another college.

Diane M. Lee, UMBC’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, says the university is working more closely with community colleges to ensure class credits will fulfill core requirements, so students don’t end up taking classes at community college that will be counted as electives, or not at all, by UMBC.

Transfer students are “more mature, they have different experiences, but they still have needs that we need to address,” Lee said. “When we talk about the importance of welcoming transfer students, it’s real on this campus.”

Today, one-third of all students change schools at least once in five years, and a quarter at least twice, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this. Of those who ultimately earn degrees, nearly a quarter finish somewhere other than where they started.

Mastery + modules = job training revolution

Online competency-based education is the most “disruptive” innovation in higher education, write Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen in Hire Education.

Online competency-based providers create cost-effective, adaptable pathways to the workforce by breaking learning into competencies rather than courses, they write.

The fusion of modularization with mastery-based learning is the key to understanding how these providers can build a multitude of stackable credentials or programs for a wide variety of industries, scale them, and simultaneously drive down the cost of educating students for the opportunities at hand. These programs target a growing set of students who are looking for a different value proposition from higher education—one that centers on targeted and specific learning outcomes, tailored support, as well as identifiable skillsets that are portable and meaningful to employers. Moreover, they underscore the valuable role that employers can play in postsecondary education by creating a whole new value network that connects students directly with employers.

Strong partnerships between online competency-based providers and employers will become more important than college rankings and accreditation, Weise and Christensen predict.

15 credits for the price of 12

Community College of Philadelphia students can 15 credits for the cost of 12, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pay for 12 credits – the equivalent of four courses – and the college picks up the tab for the fifth, worth about $555.

. . . To become eligible, students must have completed 24 credits, taken no fewer than nine and no more than 14 credits the previous semester, and have a grade-point average of at least 2.5. They also must be Philadelphia residents. To stay enrolled, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, have no course withdrawals or failures, and pay their college bills.

Upper-division courses typically have space for more students, so the college can offer a deal without running up costs.

Mai Nguyen, 19, an aspiring nurse, will graduate in two years.

“I didn’t have the money for the fifth class,” said Nguyen, who gets federal financial aid and works in the college’s financial-aid office to pay for her books. “I would have had to save up my money to take it. Now, I’m saving money, and at the same time saving time.”

Federal financial aid programs count 12 credits as a full-time load, even though it takes 15 credits to graduate on time, points out Complete College America’s “Full Time is 15″ campaign. One completion strategy is to to “ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than the current 12-credit standard.”